Alberta regional chief Marlene Poitras, left, interim Yukon regional chief Kluane Adamek, and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, along with co-chairs Harold Tarbell, Racelle Kooy, and Tim Catcheway, listen as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, centre, speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Alberta regional chief Marlene Poitras, left, interim Yukon regional chief Kluane Adamek, and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, along with co-chairs Harold Tarbell, Racelle Kooy, and Tim Catcheway, listen as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, centre, speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Indigenous communities need more mental health support in wake of COVID-19: report

A number of First Nations reported increased drug and alcohol use and relapse

Many Indigenous communities are struggling to cope with dual states of emergency, thanks to the pandemic and its effects on those with mental illness and addictions.

That’s according to a new report from a committee of MPs who spent the last year studying the effects of COVID-19 on Indigenous populations in Canada.

Representatives from dozens of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and organizations painted a grim picture of the state of health and social infrastructure in their jurisdictions.

They noted many Indigenous communities were already dealing with mental health, addictions and suicide crises before the pandemic.

Now, people are more isolated than ever and access to mental health services has been hindered due to lockdowns, cancelled programming, closed public buildings and staff burnout.

Limited access to therapy and treatment centres has led to cases of substance withdrawal syndrome in some communities under lockdown and an increase in the number and severity of violent incidents in others.

“The anxiety of the pandemic weighs on all of us, and for First Nations these stresses have been compounded for many people due to pre-existing mental health concerns, often a result of intergenerational trauma,” Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, Chief Marlene Poitras, told the committee in November.

A number of First Nations reported increased drug and alcohol use and relapse.

“We needed some serious help to battle the drug and alcohol and domestic housing issues that were causing our cases to rise dramatically,” Erik Blaney, executive council member of the Tla’amin Nation in British Columbia, told the committee.

“It was then that we realized we were in a dual pandemic, with the many opioid overdoses happening within the community.”

Liberal committee chair Bob Bratina said he heard an overall “sense of desperation” from communities grappling with how COVID-19 has been exacerbating already precarious conditions.

Long-standing challenges involving a lack of adequate housing and clean dinking-water, staffing challenges as well as a lack of reliable internet and phone service are not new problems for these communities. But they have led to new concerns during the pandemic, including the impacts of these challenges on mental health.

Racism, food insecurity and other systemic issues also contribute to the need for more dedicated dollars and attention paid to the needs of Indigenous populations in Canada, Bratina said.

“It really all ties together, which sadly reflects on the fact that we were not providing a sustainable environment for people in remote and Northern communities.”

The committee compiled a comprehensive list of over 40 recommendations, including calling for more dedicated emergency mental health supports and a review of federal funding mechanisms to ensure Indigenous communities have access to adequate, flexible and predictable funding for mental health and addictions treatment in their own communities.

The federal Liberals did commit $82.5 million in new funding for better access to mental health services during COVID-19, in addition to $425 million in existing annual funding earmarked for Indigenous mental health.

But some say this amount is not enough.

Carol Hopkins, executive director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, said much of this funding is time-limited and temporary. More sustained and stable resources are needed she said.

Brenda Restoule, CEO of the First Peoples Wellness Centre in north-eastern Ontario, agreed, noting mental wellness supports and services in Indigenous communities have been “consistently underfunded compared to Canadians, resulting in a patchwork of supports and services that vary across the country.”

“Mental wellness teams and (addictions) treatment centres have already shifted services to virtual platforms, but the shift is hampered by poor connectivity and accessibility to technology as well as limitations in workforce capacity related to both reliable and culturally relevant information on ethics, privacy and liability, and access to supervision and IT support,” Restoule said.

“Investments in connectivity, infrastructure, technology, sustained access to virtual care and human resources must happen more immediately. Otherwise, the gap in health inequity for Indigenous People will continue to grow.”

The NDP is calling on the Trudeau government to forego the usual 120 days it has to respond to the committee’s recommendations, urging Ottawa to instead get to work immediately on solving these issues.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 magnified systemic discrimination against Indigenous women: Bennett

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenousmental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Last year’s flood season stretched from April through early July, as this picture of flooding at Cache Creek park on July 4, 2020 shows. With area snowpacks at slightly above normal, temperatures and rainfall will play a role in determining what this year’s flood season looks like. (Photo credit: Tom Moe)
Snowpacks in area slightly higher than normal as freshet starts

Temperatures and rainfall are critical flood risk factors in coming weeks

The Clinton Annual Ball went ahead in 2020, albeit in a different format and with far fewer guests than usual. (Photo credit: Clinton Annual Ball committee)
Clinton Annual Ball postponed again in 2021, but still carries on

Thanks to some creativity, ball is still the longest continually-held event of its kind in Canada

The 2020 financial statements for Cache Creek show that the village needs to look at either increasing revenues or cutting services in order to maintain a balanced budget. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Cache Creek council advised to increase revenues or cut services

Presentation also shows that continued use of Landfill Legacy Fund for operations is unsustainable

A group of outdoor enthusiasts and heritage buffs learning more about the history of the iconic 1926 Alexandra Bridge during a pre-COVID-19 tour. (Photo credit: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning)
A group of outdoor enthusiasts and heritage buffs learning more about the history of the iconic 1926 Alexandra Bridge during a pre-COVID-19 tour. (Photo credit: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning)
Major grant will help refurbish historic Alexandra Bridge near Spuzzum

The 1926 bridge, which last saw vehicle traffic in 1964, is major attraction on Fraser Canyon drive

A sea lion swims past the window of an empty viewing area Vancouver Aquarium is pictured Thursday, September 10, 2020. The Vancouver Aquarium has had to close its doors to the public due to the lack of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
U.S.-based theme park company buys Vancouver Aquarium

Aquarium had to shut its doors in September due to COVID pandemic

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

A deep cut on a humpback whale is shown in this recent handout photo in the Vancouver area. A conservation organization is warning boaters to be extra careful to prevent further harm to an injured humpback whale swimming in the Vancouver area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Ocean Wise, Vanessa Prigollini *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boaters urged to use caution around hurt humpback off Vancouver

Ocean Wise says watchers first noticed the wound 3 days ago and believe it was caused by a vessel strike

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Most Read